Any bar that offers a $3 beer-and-shot combo and has an open call for go-go dancers posted on its website is not typically one where you expect to find good eats. But 169 Bar is not your typical LES dive. Owned by former New Orleans musician Charles Hanson, the bar boasts a salty Crescent City vibe unabashed in its neon lights and leopard-print pool table.
169 Bar also boasts a Southern-inspired menu at "tavern prices," which translates to Steamed Atlantic Blue Spicy Crab Legs (three whole crabs) for just $6. Slicked in a delicious, oily mixture of Old Bay seasoning and tangy hot sauce, the crustaceans appeared at the table on a flimsy paper plate with a single glass. "Sorry, I know we have a shell cracker around here, but I can't find it," the server shrugged. Perhaps a bit of an issue with a more expensive dish, but at $6, it was only a passing annoyance. The shells gave in just fine with a crack of the teeth, all the more excuse to enjoy that Old Bay flavor.
Oysters, offered in a daily selection of East or West Coast, are available raw (three for $5) or "flambeaux" (three for $6), grilled with olive oil, garlic, spices, and a flaming liquor of your choice (tequila, rum, bourbon, gin, or absinthe).
Po' Boy Sliders ($7), available with either fried oysters or fried shrimp, are bigger than a slider but not quite a full sandwich. The pickled okra and Cajun nutmeg remoulade add a nice contrast.
Certain dishes were merely passable instead of good value, such as the Steamed Artichoke ($5), which looked as though it had taken a bath in butter (to which our unfazed server replied, "Yup!"). The soggy petals were saved only after a dunk in the crabs' Old Bay sauce.
Microwaved dishes can be a hit-or-miss: Bacon on top of Mac & Cheese on top of BBQ Pork ($6) was a burnt mess, but other regulars swear by the pork or veggie Dumplings ($5), guaranteed to satisfy after a long night of Colt 45 and Tecate.
About the author: Nancy Huang, who comes to New York by way of Los Angeles, writes The Wanderist, a food and travel blog of adventures here and abroad. She loves noodles, subway maps, and word games.